Cotton Mather in a post-Christian world

Cotton Mather can provide a useful example as today’s evangelicals reckon with the changing culture, according to the conservative evangelical World Magazine.

The Puritan who lived at the turn of the 18th century had a lot in common with evangelicals living in the first part of the 21st, writes Russ Pulliam, a newspaper editor, in a positive review of Rick Kennedy’s new book, The First American Evangelical

Pulliam explains:

“Mather lived (1663-1728) during two eras of American history. Mather was born when Puritans were the dominant cultural influence in New England, but he lived well into the post-Puritan time. In that context, Kennedy identifies Mather as the first evangelical because he was shifting the Puritan approach to being salt and light.

“‘His grandparents and parents had hoped to create a City on a Hill, a model republic, far from England, where purified churches would be the foundation of politics,’ Kennedy writes. ‘But that colony was now a province and no longer isolated from imperial politics and imperial religion. Compromises must be made and expectations lowered.'”

That loss of privilege looks familiar to readers of World. As the review concludes:

“America is moving from a time when many people looked to the Bible, sometimes seriously, others times nominally or by memory of a childhood Christian influence. American culture has shifted in recent years, at least to where the dominant influence is much more post-Christian than it was 25 years ago. Given those shifts in our culture, Kennedy’s life of Cotton Mather takes on added value for our times.”

Pulliam argues that Mather needs to be rediscovered along with other Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards and John Owens. Kennedy’s book is recommended to that end. Mather, it is suggested, might be especially useful in these times.

— Daniel Silliman

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